Take action for the right company culture | Contributor

By Mike Cook
Courtesy to The Bellingham Business Journal

A couple of weeks back I wrote a piece titled “Your Business is As Good as Your Culture.” Among other things in the article was a promise from me to visit what I consider to be action steps to reliably establish and maintain the culture you want in your business.

You might be surprised to hear this, but a careful examination of your own relationship to having employees is the very first step in having the culture you want.

It is a well documented fact that you’d be hard pressed to find any public company that didn’t profess in its annual report that its employees are its most valuable asset.

You would be equally hard pressed to find any of those same companies showing employees on the asset side of their balance sheet. Leaders in those companies might quickly protest that they are limited by the rules of accounting insofar as what they can show as assets, and currently employees don’t meet the qualification.

While I agree with this explanation in principle, I think it is necessary to dig deeper into a company’s actions regarding employees to see how they might reflect the truth in practice. In many cases there seems to be a disconnect in the professed value of employees that may in part be reflected in a number of surveys that report 70 percent levels of employee disengagement.

But usually these statistics reflect surveys of larger companies.

So, assuming that if you are reading The Bellingham Business Journal, you may not be involved with a public company or even a much larger private company, more likely a Whatcom County or Skagit County business, what does this discussion have to do with you?

I’d ask you to think about this: When you reflect on your employees, do they show up for you primarily as expense or investment, resource or asset, problem or opportunity?

The difference is crucial, not so much because there is a right answer, but because knowing the answer for yourself begins to provide a clearer understanding of how you might build the culture of a business. It can also provide an understanding of why things may be going the way they are in your business today.

Here is what I have found as a matter of practice: Some business owners have employees because they need them in order to operate their business.

This is what I would call a pragmatic approach: employees as necessity.They are resources to be used to whatever degree they can be and ultimately an expense that must be tolerated, but not necessarily embraced.

In other cases I have found that the employer has employees because the employer has a clear vision of the kind of business they want to create, how big they want to be, what services they want to provide, etc.—and they will willingly have as many employees as it takes to fulfill that vision, knowing that without the particular skills their employees bring, there is little hope of getting there.

This view reflects understanding of the value for interdependency when it comes to accomplishing anything of consequence.

Before moving on to the other steps below, it should be noted that if you are operating from the perspective of employees as a necessity and expense, then you may be reluctant to adopt the following steps. The direction I’ll be taking you involves increasing the level of reliance on the employees as the means to the success of your enterprise.

Once you clear that hurdle, the rest of these steps may just fall into place.

– Clarify your own vision for your business, and begin to communicate that openly to your employees.

– Get clear on which values you believe reflect that vision, and communicate them often. Take a look here at how a well known values-driven company, Zappos, expresses its values for employees.

– Define your strategic priorities. What will focus employee action and intention? Will you focus on adding new products, improving overall customer satisfaction, adding new customers? Here’s an example of a strategy focused rigorously on getting the customers what they want, taken from a recent segment from CBS’ “60 Minutes.”

– Determine and communicate the performance and results you believe will help accomplish your vision.

– Measure, feedback and recognize. Again, hopefully this last item would be obvious, but nothing cramps performance like not knowing how you are doing, or not being recognized for your contribution.

Mike Cook is a management developer who lives in Anacortes, Wash. He publishes a weekly blog at www.heartofengagement.com.

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